Highlight: Two Stories and Kew Gardens – new Woolf acquisitions
Following on from our previous Highlight post, Dr Ian Blyth explores the history and importance of two recent acquisitions to the Rare Books collections. If you would like to write a Highlights post for us, get in touch!
Two extremely rare and welcome additions were recently made to the library’s holdings of works by Virginia Woolf (1882–1941): Two Stories (1917), which consists of ‘Three Jews’ by Leonard Woolf (1880–1969) and ‘The Mark on the Wall’ by Virginia Woolf (the St Andrews copy has an orange card inserted in-between the cover and front fly-leaf, and bears the inscription: ‘Adrian Stephen’s [sic] Virginia’s brother gave me this in the late 1930ties Enid Marx’); and Kew Gardens (1919), one of Woolf’s most enduringly popular short stories. These titles are major staging points in the development of her iconic ‘experimental’ modernist style; they are also two of the earliest publications from Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s The Hogarth Press, one of the most successful and influential small presses in the first half of the twentieth century.
On Tuesday, 24 April 1917, the Woolfs took delivery of a hand press, several boxes of type, some assorted tools, and an instruction manual. Once they had mastered the basics, the first thing they did was to print an announcement from ‘The Hogarth Press’ (newly named after their then residence, Hogarth House in Richmond) inviting subscriptions for a forthcoming limited edition ‘pamphlet containing two short stories by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’. In early May 1917 they began work on this ‘Publication No. 1’, Two Stories, although it was not until much later in the month, when they were already part-way through setting and printing Leonard Woolf’s ‘Three Jews’, that Virginia Woolf had written her story for the volume. ‘I shall never forget the day I wrote The Mark on the Wall’, she recalled to the composer Ethel Smyth in October 1930, ‘all in a flash, as if flying’.
Two Stories was an ambitious project for a first publication by novice printers. They had only enough type to set two pages at a time (the volume is 34 pages in extent), and the decision to include four woodcuts by their friend Dora Carrington made the job even more difficult (they had to take a chisel to the edges of the woodblocks on several occasions). It took the best part of two and a half months to set, hand print and bind the 150 copies that made up the edition. As can be seen in the copy in St Andrews, the pages were not always evenly inked, and there were some errors in the typography, spacing and alignment, but overall the quality of the printing work was of a reasonably high standard, all things considered. The wrappers, bought ad-hoc from a local stationer, came in at least three different forms: thin yellow paper; plain dull-blue Japanese paper; and a red and white all-over design on Japanese paper (as seen on the St Andrews copy). These were all hand sewn by Virginia Woolf. The edition as good as sold out within three months – the final few copies selling for 2s. rather than the initial 1s. 6d. They even made a small profit. The Hogarth Press was underway.
Kew Gardens, Hogarth Press ‘Publication No. 7’, was published in an edition of 150 on 12 May 1919. If the two volumes are placed alongside each other, it is noticeable that the type in Kew Gardens is more even and ‘professional’ looking than that in Two Stories – illustrating how much more proficient the Woolfs had become as printers in the intervening two years. The wrappers for Kew Gardens were made from white wallpaper, hand coloured with blue, brown and orange paint on a black background. The paint on these wrappers is often very fragile, and prone to flaking: the copy in St Andrews is a remarkably well preserved example. Most if not all of these wrappers were done in Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops, although a letter dated 4 May 1919 from Woolf to her sister, Vanessa Bell (1879–1961), suggests that Bell might well have painted an unknown number of them.
Vanessa Bell did supply two woodcuts for Kew Gardens, and the second of these, the tailpiece, appears in three states: printed on the page; printed on a separate page and pasted on (as seen in the St Andrews volume); and printed on a separate page and pasted over an existing print. Again, this was due to problems the Woolfs had with printing woodcut blocks, and it was the cause of a rare (and temporary) falling out between the two sisters; it is interesting to note that when a second ‘professionally printed’ edition of 500 was published in June 1919, Virginia Woolf felt that the results were not that much better than those she and Leonard Woolf had achieved.
Kew Gardens was the last work of fiction by Woolf which was hand printed at The Hogarth Press (in 1930 they would publish a hand printed limited edition of her essay, On Being Ill – one of the last hand printed books published by the press). Vanessa Bell supplied further woodcuts for Monday or Tuesday (1921), a collection of short stories which included revised versions of both ‘The Mark on the Wall’ and ‘Kew Gardens’ (unfortunately, they contracted the work to a local printer: Leonard Woolf later described the result as ‘one of the worst printed books ever published’), and she would go on to design all but two of the dust jackets for her sister’s subsequent books (from Woolf’s third novel, Jacob’s Room (1922), until the last work published in her lifetime, Roger Fry (1940), her books were typeset and printed by R & R Clark of Edinburgh; the library has an original Vanessa Bell dust jacket for Woolf’s posthumous 1941 novel, Between the Acts). She would also take a leading role in the highly elaborate 1927 third edition of Kew Gardens, which was printed by a specialist firm who handled ‘fine’ editions, and every page of which has an illustration by Vanessa Bell: this 1927 edition was limited to 500 copies; St Andrews has no. 25.
– Ian Blyth
Ian is an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of English, and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Virginia Woolf.